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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Golden Gate Park--San Francisco

The Golden Gate Park's Japanese Tea Garden.                                     
A Golden Gate Park Bridge in the
Japanese Tea Garden.
If anyone ever tries to sell you a bridge in Golden Gate Park, don't pay an exorbitant price. There are a two or three quite picturesque stream-crossers in the park, but not the city's graceful, brick-red, trademark/landmark you first think of. Actually, the Golden Gate Bridge isn't even visible from the park. The bridge makes it's landing in the city of San Francisco in the Presidio, which is a couple parks north of Golden Gate Park. The park was named, not for the bridge, but for the narrow inlet into San Francisco Bay. There are many worthwhile sights to see in the "city by the bay," but to my way of thinking, Golden Gate Park tops the list. Enjoy the cable cars; dine at Fisherman's Wharf; pay your respects to the "Painted Ladies" (thirteen blocks east of the park); expect to be disappointed if you visit Haight Ashbury (bordering the park to the east); and stare up at the pyramidal TransAmerica building. But whatever you do, spend at least a day exploring the 1,017 acres (20% larger than New York's Central Park) of urban greens pace rivaling any urban park in the world (well, except for Walt Disney World, perhaps).
Golden Gate Park from the air. Lincoln Park is at the bottom.
The Presido is not visible in the photo but resides just off the bottom left corner.
One of several waterfall in the park.
I was joking when I compared Golden Gate Park to Walt Disney World (WDW), but in fact, there are a number of apt comparisons. At just over three miles in length and about a half-mile wide, Golden Gate Park is not as big as WDW, but just as easy to get lost in (I find WDW terribly disorienting). There is no "Space Mountain," but the park does have a carousel (bottom) and sports some pretty nice rolling hills (some natural, some manmade). You won't find any fairytale castles but there is some fairly impressive architecture, nonetheless (such as the De Young Museum of Art on the northern edge of the park near the midpoint in its length). My wife and I visited the park in mid-May of this year (2014) when everything floral was just beginning to erupt in a cascading explosion of color easily surpassing WDW and it's desert of endless parking lots. The place is a landscape gardener's paradise. (The three-year California drought had not been kind to the place.)

Golden Gate Park's De Young Museum of Art built in 2005 following the .
Besides the De Young, and the Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park also boasts a graceful floral conservatory, an arboretum, a science museum, golf course, riding stables, two stadiums, a concert shell, a beachfront chalet (two restaurants and a brewery), and a soccer field (there's also an 800-car underground parking garage at the De Young). Add to this the usual lakes, ponds, fountains, secluded park benches, two windmills, a buffalo zoo, and throw in a model yacht sailing basin, and you have a recreational area that's not only (mostly) free but quite lovely to look at virtually all seasons of the year (San Francisco has relatively mild winters).

The Golden Gate Park's Floral Conservatory dates from 1879.
John McLaren 1847-1943
Although the park was supposedly intended to provide the city's residents with a vast recreation area, its real purpose was to spur residential development in the city's neglected west side. That, it did. San Francisco's Golden Gate Park arose from a muddled area of sand dunes and scrub shortly after the Civil War as several major American cities began to imitate Frederick Law Olmsted's Central Park in New York. Olmsted's San Francisco counterpart was John McLaren, the park's superintendent for over fifty-three years. Although the park was surveyed and planned by the early California civil engineer, William Hammond Hall, it was McLaren who executed the plan, planted the 155,000 trees (not personally, of course) needed to stabilized the dunes while fending off the San Francisco millionaires wishing to install a racetrack (that he did do personally). On a single weekend afternoon in 1887, nearly one fifth of the city's population took the cable-cars to the park (47,000 out of 250,000). When it came time for McLaren to retire at age sixty, he refused, continuing on, as the park's manager and greatest defender, living within the park itself until his death in 1943 at age ninety-six.

The Golden Gate Park Temple of Music on the Main Concourse dates from 1894.

Golden Gate Park occupies a half-mile strip running
west from the city's central ridge down to the sea.
The day my wife and I visited Golden Gate park, the weather was sunny and mild, the weekday crowd was modest, and there was a high school band performing in the park's Beaux-Arts style Temple of Music (above). While I took in the art museum, my wife had a very pleasant day relaxing in the park, listening to live music, and playing games on her Ipad. It was a welcomed respite from the "hell on wheels" that she called the experience of driving the "Streets of San Francisco."

WDW has nothing to worry about, but Golden Gate's carousel seems to appeal to visitors of all ages, especially those over fifty.

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